The Teamsters added nearly 40 new members earlier this month by organizing the country’s first group of unionized marijuana growers.
Although this is taking place in weed-friendly California, it’s still unclear how the Teamsters will safeguard the rights of members who do work that’s considered a federal crime.
“I didn’t have this planned out when I became a Teamster 34 years ago, to organize marijuana workers,” said Lou Marchetti, who acted as a liaison between the growers and Oakland-based Teamsters Local 70. “This is a whole new ballgame.”
The new members work as gardeners, trimmers and cloners for Marjyn Investments LLC, an Oakland business that contracts with medical marijuana patients to grow their pot for them.
Their newly negotiated two-year contract provides them with a pension, paid vacation and health insurance. Their current wages of $18 per hour will increase to $25.75 an hour within 15 months, according to the union.
Michael Leong, assistant regional director for the Oakland office of the National Labor Relations Board, said he did not know of any case in which the federal government had been asked to mediate a dispute involving a business that was blatantly illegal under federal law.
He also said it wasn’t clear if the new Teamsters would count as farmworkers, which would put them outside the NLRB’s domain.
Michael Lee, general counsel for the California Agricultural Labor Relations Board, said the growers probably would qualify as agricultural workers. Any conflict between workers and the union would likely fall under his board’s jurisdiction, but contract disputes between workers and management would have to be decided in state court.
“There was no strife between employees and management at all,” said a Marjyn worker who would only identify himself as Rudy L. because he worried about his personal security if it became known that he grew marijuana for a living. He said he was not worried about getting arrested because he believed Marjyn was operating in compliance with state law, though the threat of a federal crackdown is never far from anyone’s mind.